NBA

Early NBA Championship Odds for 2014-15 Season

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 16, 2014

Early NBA Championship Odds for 2014-15 Season

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    Congratulations to the San Antonio Spurs for winning the 2014 NBA title and adorning Tim Duncan's thumb with a ring. 

    While they're celebrating, let's look ahead. 

    Is it way too soon to be thinking about the championship odds for the 2014-15 season? Absolutely, but that doesn't mean they're any less interesting and informative. Especially because these odds are breaking down and factoring in expected offseason trends. 

    Every franchise will undergo significant roster movement during the offseason, whether through players retiring, major trades, free-agent losses, subsequent free-agent signings and draft picks. The landscape of the NBA could significantly shift, and future odds will account for any surprises, but the expected moves and player development are all factored in here. 

    Are the Spurs favorites? Even after their dominant performance in these Finals, maybe not. After all, there's no guarantee that some of the most prominent players are even in the NBA for the 2014-15 campaign, and that's saying nothing of a roster that continues to age. 

    Maybe San Antonio opens its title defense in the No. 1 spot. Maybe it doesn't. 

    You'll have to find out, because these are championship odds, not power rankings. 

30. Milwaukee Bucks: 300-1

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    The Milwaukee Bucks aren't going to compete for a championship anytime soon, even after they add either Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker to a roster that already has some young talent. 

    There just isn't nearly enough established talent. 

    Even if Larry Sanders bounces back from a campaign that was plagued by legal drama and injuries, even if O.J. Mayo begins caring and even if Brandon Knight takes a massive step forward, the Bucks are years away from actually having a chance at the Larry O'Brien Trophy. 

    That said—and despite their placement in the NBA basement—they're still on the rise. Given the aforementioned names, the presence of John Henson and the seemingly unlimited potential of Giannis Antetokounmpo and his massive hands, how could they not be? 

    Milwaukee will still have to get lucky to even find itself in the hunt for a playoff berth, but it's easy to be trending upward when you're starting about as far in the basement as possible. 

     

    Expected Offseason Trend: Up

29. Orlando Magic: 250-1

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    The Orlando Magic have plenty of promising young pieces, but they're in no way ready to compete for a championship, let alone a playoff berth. Yes, even in the weaker Eastern Conference. 

    Let's assume that the Magic draft Dante Exum as their point guard of the future, as seems to be the case in just about every mock draft that makes much sense. At that stage, there's potential at point guard (Exum), shooting guard (Victor Oladipo), small forward (Arron Afflalo and Tobias Harris), power forward (Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O'Quinn) and center (Nikola Vucevic). 

    That's a lot of talent. 

    Then again, the best player—right now, at least—is Afflalo. Does anyone actually expect the Magic, who should improve this year thanks to the myriad up-and-comers, to be that competitive with the 28-year-old swingman serving as the No. 1 option? 

    I hope not. 

     

    Expected Offseason Trend: Up

28. Utah Jazz: 225-1

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    Let's go over the ages of key players on the Utah Jazz roster: 

    • Trey Burke: 21 years old
    • Alec Burks: 22
    • Derrick Favors: 22
    • Enes Kanter: 22
    • Rudy Gobert: 21
    • Gordon Hayward (if he returns now that he's a restricted free agent): 24

    And that's not even including the incoming rookie, one who will be selected at No. 5 in this loaded draft class. 

    The Jazz are overflowing with young talent, which makes it a near certainty they'll improve during the upcoming season. But that doesn't make them a championship bunch quite yet. 

    There's no clear leader on the Jazz, and Hayward struggled as a No. 1 scoring option without much protection from his teammates. Eventually, players will need to establish themselves as bona fide studs rather than relying on their unrealized potential to gain recognition.

     

    Expected Offseason Trend: Up

27. Philadelphia 76ers: 200-1

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    Yes, the Philadelphia 76ers lost 26 games in a row during an embarrassing 2013-14 season. 

    But that's firmly in the past. 

    This Philly squad is poised for one of the biggest turnarounds in the NBA, as its about to be joined by a significant amount of youthful talent while getting an even better performance from Michael Carter-Williams, who will be aided by the presence of other quality options. 

    Not only do the Sixers have the ability to draft either Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins, but they also have the No. 10, No. 32, No. 39, No. 47, No. 52 and No. 54 picks in a draft class that's as deep as it is loaded with talent at the top. 

    Oh, and Nerlens Noel will be making his long-awaited debut after sitting out what would've been his rookie season. 

    Philadelphia goes from having a roster largely comprised of D-League players to overflowing with young talent, all in one offseason. They may even manage to make the playoffs, given the putrid nature of the Eastern Conference.

    But a championship? Although technically it's slightly more likely, you can forget about that. 

     

    Expected Offseason Trend: Up

26. Minnesota Timberwolves: 175-1

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    If the Minnesota Timberwolves couldn't make the playoffs with Kevin Love, how do they hope to win a championship without him? 

    After all, Love isn't exactly a candidate for the "addition by subtraction" theory. 

    While there's no guarantee that the statistically excellent power forward finds a new home before the start of the 2014-15 season, it seems exceedingly likely that Minnesota is forced into making a move.

    There's been hint after hint, including Love saying it "burns me and hurts my heart" when asked about missing the postseason in six straight seasons on SportsNation, as relayed by ESPN.com news services.

    Without him, the 'Wolves will be preparing for pingpong balls.

    Even with him, the championship dreams are exactly that—dreams.

     

    Expected Offseason Trend: Down

25. Sacramento Kings: 150-1

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    The Sacramento Kings have a lot of young pieces, but there's still a significant amount of work left to do before this becomes a team, not just a collection of talents.

    Under the direction of Vivek Ranadive and the rest of the new ownership in Sac-Town, this franchise is trending in the right direction, but it's still a long way from being championship material. 

    Right now, patience is of paramount importance, as Bleacher Report's Stephen Babb explains:

    Patience may be a tough sell for an organization that remains on the outside of the playoffs looking in, but it's as important part as any to building a winning formula. Head coach Mike Malone is only one season into installing his defensive philosophy, and a young core is still trying to find its way in an incredibly competitive Western Conference.

    The pieces are there, especially if Isaiah Thomas is re-signed and Rudy Gay either picks up his option or signs an extension with the franchise that aided his rebirth. DeMarcus Cousins, after all, is quickly becoming one of the best bigs in basketball. 

    But again, patience. 

     

    Expected Offseason Trend: Up

24. Los Angeles Lakers: 125-1

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    No matter what happens, the Los Angeles Lakers are going to be more competitive than they were in 2013-14. After all, they're adding a top-10 pick to the roster, and Kobe Bryant is going to be back on the court. 

    However, that doesn't mean the Lake Show will be in the championship conversation. 

    Other than Kobe, who will be the established stars on this roster? Steve Nash? Kendall Marshall? Robert Sacre? That No. 7 pick? 

    The Lakers don't control much talent, and they're going to be awfully hesitant to add any marquee players before the 2015 offseason, as doing so this summer would jeopardize their ability to rebuild in one fell swoop a year later. 

    Hard as it may be for the Purple and Gold to accept, it's going to be another lackluster season. A better one, but still a lackluster one. 

     

    Expected Offseason Trend: Up

23. Boston Celtics: 120-1

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    The Boston Celtics will benefit from a full season of Rajon Rondo running the show, but he's not going to be an immediate cure for whatever has been ailing this team ever since the superstars left town. After all, he didn't improve significantly once he regained his sea legs, as broken down in detail here

    Particularly problematic is the lack of offensive options. Jeff Green can't continue to function as the No. 1 scorer on the squad, as defenses are able to show him—and Rondo—far too much attention. 

    Finding a way to trade for Kevin Love would certainly aid the rebuilding process, but so too would adding just about any scoring threat in free agency. Having a high pick in the 2014 NBA draft will help as well, of course, though that could have more delayed results. 

    Boston is still a long way from competing for a title, but there's room to improve back into a postseason squad.

     

    Expected Offseason Trend: Up

22. Detroit Pistons: 105-1

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    The Detroit Pistons have way too much talent on the roster to be such a middling bunch once again, especially now that Stan Van Gundy is running the show, both in the front office and on the sidelines. 

    Josh Smith is a fringe All-Star talent when he actually plays the right way, which he most assuredly did not during his first season in Motown. Greg Monroe, who enters the offseason as a restricted free agent, is another great frontcourt talent. And Andre Drummond is the best of the bunch, especially if he continues improving like he has during the first two years of his NBA career. 

    Beyond that, the talent is more limited. 

    Kentavious Caldwell-Pope could develop into a quality starter, and Brandon Jennings could begin playing to his strengths and avoiding his weaknesses more, but the perimeter game of these Pistons is still rather limited. 

    There's only so much SVG can do in his first year with the team, but some improvements have to be expected.

     

    Expected Offseason Trend: Up

21. New York Knicks: 100-1

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    Will he stay or will he go?

    That's the fundamental question of the New York Knicks' offseason, as the decision of Carmelo Anthony affects everything. Whether he's on the roster, the Knicks are capped out for Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson's first offseason with the organization. But his presence obviously makes this team significantly better. 

    Even with Melo, though, is this really a competitive team?

    Thanks to the exorbitant salaries of Andrea Bargnani and Amar'e Stoudemire, there's no cap room whatsoever. The Knicks are going to be left filling up the roster with spare parts, unable to pay anyone more than a minimum deal. 

    The squad won't be as dysfunctional as it was in 2013-14—that's almost a guarantee, considering the ridiculous nature of some stories emerging from Madison Square Garden over the last calendar year—but the Knicks are a long way away from competing for a championship. 

    That could all change in 2015, but not heading into the 2014-15 season. 

     

    Expected Offseason Trend: Neutral

20. Cleveland Cavaliers: 99-1

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    Expect the Cleveland Cavaliers to make a significant jump during the upcoming season. 

    Not only do they have plenty of young players who are poised to make strides during the offseason—namely Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett—but they're about to add a No. 1 pick to the mix. Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins could all aid the cause, especially the forwards if we're only talking about the near future. 

    The Cavs were a dysfunctional team throughout the 2013-14 season. In-fighting and embarrassing losses were the main stories, and the key players largely failed to get much better, stagnating rather than developing for the most part.

    But with new leadership, more hope and a renewed focus, that should be locked away in the past. 

    Is Cleveland ready to compete for a championship? Absolutely not, but the playoffs are a distinct possibility. There's enough talent on the roster to hang with even the most loaded squads in the Eastern Conference for a couple of games, assuming it all coalesces this year. 

     

    Expected Offseason Trend: Up

19. Dallas Mavericks: 80-1

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    The Dallas Mavericks overachieved this year. 

    While it's always dangerous to bet against Dirk Nowitzki, especially when he's coming off such a fantastic season, the big man is only getting older. He'll be 36 throughout the next season, and there's no telling what kind of pieces will be in place around him.

    Unfortunately, though, the Mavs don't have a stellar history with recent free agents, as they've consistently struck out on their biggest targets.

    With a declining superstar, a nearly complete lack of defensive presences, plenty of prominent players hitting the open market and an aging supporting cast, it's tough to be positive about Dallas' chances moving forward.

    One big signing changes everything, but there are plenty more appealing teams going after all the marquee players. 

     

    Expected Offseason Trend: Down

18. Brooklyn Nets: 75-1

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    The Brooklyn Nets are completely capped out (and then some), which severely inhibits their ability to make even the tiniest improvements to this roster. 

    General manager Billy King will be left trying to add veterans on minimum salaries while using cap exceptions, but those players can only make minor differences. They won't offset the age-related declines of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, and that's assuming the latter two even return to the team rather than going elsewhere (Pierce) or retiring (Garnett). 

    The only reason for optimism is the inevitable return of Brook Lopez

    But after multiple foot injuries, the big man may have to change the way he plays. Hell, the way he runs may even be up for adjustment, which could limit his effectiveness and leave him unable to carry his team to the extent he did early in the 2013-14 campaign. 

     

    Expected Offseason Trend: Down

17. Charlotte Hornets: 60-1

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    The Charlotte Hornets are looking to leave their old name behind them, and they're in great shape to do exactly that. 

    However, even with improvements from the young guns and the addition of the superstar that Michael Jordan apparently covets, as reported by Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer, the Hornets still aren't ready to compete for a championship. 

    Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Cody Zeller have a lot of improving to do, and Kemba Walker is still coming into his own as a high-quality point guard. The building blocks are certainly here, which stands in stark contrast to what Charlotte was dealing with a few years ago, but it takes a while to create a completed puzzle. 

    Making the playoffs was only the beginning for this organization on the rise. Next is a series win or two, which is a legitimate goal for 2014-15, and a championship will come further on down the road. 

     

    Expected Offseason Trend: Up

16. Denver Nuggets: 55-1

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    Even if the Denver Nuggets make no roster changes during the offseason, they'd be in far better position to compete for a title. 

    After all, the disappointing nature of the 2013-14 campaign can largely be chalked up to that pesky injury imp. It preyed on the Nuggets far more than necessary, knocking out Danilo Gallinari, Nate Robinson, JaVale McGee and J.J. Hickson with season-ending injuries. Plus, Ty Lawson was hurt as well for a significant period, which actually left Denver without a single true point guard at one point. 

    But those guys should be healthy going forward. 

    The Nuggets have quality options at every single position, and the bench is loaded with backups who could be fringe starters—at worst—on a less competitive team. Add in the expected improvement from Kenneth Faried, who was fantastic after the All-Star break, as well as a lottery pick, and you're looking at a dark-horse contender. 

     

    Expected Offseason Trend: Up

15. New Orleans Pelicans: 50-1

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    It's quite rare that a lottery team can morph into a fringe contender without making any major moves, but such is the case for the New Orleans Pelicans. 

    While the team only has enough money to make smaller free-agent signings and doesn't have any picks in the 2014 NBA draft, there's still going to be a massive improvement.

    After all, the top five players really never got a chance to play with one another during the 2013-14 season. Per Basketball-Reference.com, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis spent only 90 minutes on the court together. 

    Why? They all sat out of too many games, as Evans (10 games missed), Davis (15), Gordon (18), Holiday (48) and Anderson (60) couldn't stay healthy at the same time. Once they can, we'll finally see what this potential-laden roster can do. 

    There's a superstar leading the charge, as "The Brow" established himself as a top-10 player this past season. Add in great shooters, solid defenders off the bench and a former All-Star point guard who only just turned 24 years old, and there's a recipe for quite a bit of success. 

    Consider these Pelicans another set of dark horses. Between their avian and equine tendencies, they have to be massively confused. 

     

    Expected Offseason Trend: Up

14. Phoenix Suns: 40-1

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    During the 2013-14 season, the Phoenix Suns went 19-10 when they were playing a team for the first time, good for a winning percentage of 0.655. That means that when the Suns were facing a squad they'd already played, they went only 29-24, which equates to a 0.547 winning percentage. 

    It's a big difference, and it indicates that teams started to figure Phoenix out, especially once it was clear this wasn't a team that could just be taken lightly. 

    There will be some sort of regression during the 2014-15 season, though the return of Eric Bledsoe—assuming he's re-signed—and the improvement of the many young players could cancel it out, as well as the wealth of draft picks. Phoenix is starting to move into the realm of playoff contenders, but there's still another leap necessary before actually having a realistic shot at a championship. 

    If there's any team stuck between a neutral trend and a slight upward movement, it's these Suns.

     

    Expected Offseason Trend: Neutral

13. Memphis Grizzlies: 32-1

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    The Memphis Grizzlies remain exactly who they've been over the last few years. 

    Each player in the starting lineup is established, and the roster as a whole remains quite devoid of any perimeter shooting. Is that going to change? Not in any significant way, a statement that applies to both parts of the opening sentence in this paragraph. 

    Even if Zach Randolph picks up his player option and returns, the Grizzlies aren't going to improve to the point that they're a truly dangerous team in the Western Conference. They'll be one that no one wants to play, thanks to that stellar defense and the offense that is slowly improving under Dave Joerger, but they don't have the upside necessary to actually win a championship. 

    Expect yet another playoff berth and another exit short of the NBA Finals. 

     

    Expected Offseason Trend: Neutral

12. Atlanta Hawks: 30-1

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    The Atlanta Hawks made the playoffs by virtue of the Eastern Conference's overall incompetence, but they'll be significantly better after the offseason. 

    After all, two players who weren't there for the 2014 playoffs will most likely be helping out the team during the 2014-15 campaign. The first is Lucas Nogueira, a high-potential 7-footer from Brazil who was drafted in the first round last year but spent the season playing abroad. He'll likely add depth, but not much more. 

    Al Horford has the "much more" handled. 

    The veteran big man was the best player on the Atlanta roster before a torn pectoral (again) knocked him out for the majority of the season and the entirety of the postseason. He'll be back in business for the start of the next campaign, and the Hawks offense is aided rather significantly when he's on the court. 

    Remember, Atlanta was sitting pretty at No. 3 in the conference when he went down. 

     

    Expected Offseason Trend: Up

11. Toronto Raptors: 27-1

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    "Obviously we didn't do anything with Kyle [at the trade deadline] because we view him highly in this organization," Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri said in late February to the Toronto Sun's Mike Ganter. "I think Kyle is playing his part and we are going to stay on Kyle. I met with his agent yesterday and I think there is a good progress in Kyle's growth here."

    Kyle Lowry will be the No. 1 priority this offseason, but given how well he played, it's likely he demands a salary high enough that the Raptors can't afford to add too much more talent. 

    That, and overall improvement from many teams in the Eastern Conference, will make it hard for the Raptors to do anything more than repeat their level of success from the 2013-14 campaign. This is an extremely tough and talented team, but there are still too many holes and players without much experience to win a championship. 

    Nonetheless, Toronto is in good shape. It's just cementing its status as a powerful squad in the East, even if that leaves it short of anything more than a fringe contender. 

     

    Expected Offseason Trend: Neutral

10. Washington Wizards: 25-1

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    The Washington Wizards have one of the best backcourts in all of basketball, and it's only going to get better. 

    John Wall used the 2013-14 season to establish himself as one of the premier point guards in this league, and Bradley Beal is quite close to doing the exact same thing at shooting guard.

    They're a combined 43 years old. 

    Unfortunately, though, most of the improvement will have to come from internal development. Washington only has the cap space to bring back players like Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat, as those key guys are too important to let go. And once they're back, there isn't going to be much financial flexibility left. 

    Washington removed the stink of the late 2000s and early 2010s by making the playoffs this past season, and the next campaign should include a similar result. That said, the Wiz are still a few years removed from actually competing for the Larry O'Brien Trophy. 

     

    Expected Offseason Trend: Up

9. Portland Trail Blazers: 24-1

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    The Portland Trail Blazers aren't going to be any more of a championship threat than they were in 2013-14 until they add to their bench. 

    As shown by Hoopsstats.com, the Rip City second unit had the worst offensive efficiency in the NBA. The defense wasn't much better, checking in at No. 27. That's a brutal combination, one that puts an inordinate amount of pressure on the starters, who stayed unnaturally healthy during this past season. 

    Chances are, Portland won't be able to avoid significant injuries to that extent. The law of averages has to come into play at some point. And if the bench isn't ready to take the challenge, the Blazers will sink quickly. 

    However, without any cap space to work with and utterly devoid of draft picks in either round, how exactly is Portland going to remedy this? 

     

    Expected Offseason Trend: Neutral

8. Golden State Warriors: 20-1

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    It's fair to wonder how much better the Golden State Warriors would've performed in the 2014 postseason if Andrew Bogut had been healthy and ready to go. But even after the promising hiring of Steve Kerr, there's no guarantee that the future is brighter, even with a healthy squad in place. 

    Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee and Andrew Bogut will all be back, but how much does that mean if the Warriors can't play better offense while avoiding a point hemorrhage whenever the backups have to come in? 

    And how exactly does Golden State anticipate improving this offseason?

    Even with Jermaine O'Neal, Steve Blake and Jordan Crawford hitting free agency, the team is capped out. And on top of that, it doesn't have any way to add rookies during the stacked 2014 NBA draft.

    Until there's some hint that the bench is going to be upgraded, the improvements of the young guns are going to be completely negated.  

     

    Expected Offseason Trend: Neutral

7. Houston Rockets: 18-1

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    Even though general manager Daryl Morey always chases after stars during the offseason and presumably has his sights set on a couple of options heading into this particular summer, it's going to be rather difficult for him to successfully acquire any of them. 

    Seeing as Houston has little to no cap room, depending on how it handles its cap holds, non-guaranteed salaries and options, the Rockets will be left trying to trade Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin for nothing but cap space, then using that money to lure in a third star. 

    It's not going to be easy. 

    Chances are, the Rockets will have a roster that looks quite similar to the current one. And while James Harden and Dwight Howard will have a better understanding of how to play alongside one another, the expensive nature of Chandler Parsons' contract—assuming he returns and doesn't sign too large an offer sheet now that the team has elected to let him explore restricted free agency—will prevent the bench from experiencing too many upgrades. 

     

    Expected Offseason Trend: Neutral

6. Chicago Bulls: 15-1

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    No pressure, Derrick Rose

    As long as he's fully healthy and ready to resume the whole "being a dominant point guard" thing, the Chicago Bulls will be considered championship contenders. After all, they'd boast one of the league's best coaches (Tom Thibodeau), a premier point guard (Rose) and one of the NBA's top centers (Joakim Noah). 

    Of course, the Bulls could get even better if they get their hands on Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Love, but even more minor changes would be beneficial. Amnestying Carlos Boozer and handing his minutes to Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic, who should finally be brought across the pond after years of dominating European basketball, is certainly going to help Chicago rather significantly. 

    Then you can factor in the expected improvement of Jimmy Butler and Tony Snell, who flashed moments of brilliance as his rookie season progressed. 

    The Bulls, just as seems to be the case every year, enter the offseason as potential championship contenders. But this time, there's even more pressure on Rose than ever before. 

     

    Expected Offseason Trend: Up

5. Indiana Pacers: 14-1

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    It's easy to assume that the Indiana Pacers are only going to get better after falling to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals each of the last two years. 

    However, their championship window might have firmly shut after the latest exit. 

    Sure, Paul George is only going to keep improving, and Roy Hibbert won't be a lumbering liability once he regains his confidence. However, there's no guarantee Lance Stephenson returns, and the Indiana management is preventing any roster improvements by limiting the team's spending ability. 

    There just aren't many options when trying to upgrade the bench, which might end up being even worse than before. Additionally, the league seemed to figure out the Pacers defense—to some extent—during the second half of the season, which spells trouble for Indiana's ability to earn home-court advantage once more. 

    George could become a top-five player and prove me wrong, but the chances of that are quite low. 

     

    Expected Offseason Trend: Down

4. San Antonio Spurs: 10-1

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    It's almost inconceivable to think about the San Antonio Spurs not being the prohibitive favorites going into the 2014-15 season after their domination in the 2014 NBA Finals, but such is the case. 

    Why? Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili aren't guaranteed to return. Tony Parker is one year older, and so too is the rest of an aging roster that's only boosted by so much youthful energy from Kawhi Leonard. 

    Granted, it's stupid to count the Spurs out. They could sign a roster filled with D-League players and probably still manage to make at least the Western Conference Finals. 

    But given the potential roster movement, there's a chance there could be a significant decline this offseason. It has to happen at some point. 

    Probably. I think. 

    Maybe?

     

    Expected Offseason Trend: Down

3. Los Angeles Clippers: 8-1

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    The Los Angeles Clippers can't possibly have a worse set of backup big men than the ones they boasted during the 2013-14 season. 

    Ryan Hollins, Antawn Jamison, Glen Davis, Byron Mullens and Matt Barnes spent time at power forward and center throughout the year, and none of those are particularly promising options when either Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan needs a breather. Chances are, this frontcourt will be upgraded, whether that's done by adding veterans on minimum contracts or using the first-round pick on a big man. 

    So long as that's not a hindrance, this is a championship-caliber team. 

    Chris Paul remains the best point guard in the NBA, though a number of players are coming close to dethroning him, and Griffin is now the class of his own position. Jordan, meanwhile, is only improving under Doc Rivers and should continue becoming more of a basketball player than a superior athlete who plays basketball. 

    Even though CP3's teams have consistently underachieved during the postseason, these Clippers can't be counted out in the championship chase. 

     

    Expected Offseason Trend: Up

2. Miami Heat: 7-1

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    Does anyone actually know what's going to happen in South Beach? 

    Technically, Norris Cole is the only player with a guaranteed contract, as the rest of the roster all has the opportunity to hit free agency. Yes, even LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh

    This could go many ways.

    The Big Three could opt out of their deals and go elsewhere, leaving the Miami Heat in a spot of trouble. They could opt out then re-sign for less money, attracting anyone from Carmelo Anthony to Luol Deng to Trevor Ariza.

    Frankly, your guess is as good as mine, though it's significant that Chris Bosh says the idea of bringing Melo to Miami is "very, very unlikely," per the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson (h/t ESPN's Michael Wallace).

    Should the marquee players return, Miami will have a shot at yet another championship. Should they leave, that's the end of the team's run of consecutive appearances in the NBA Finals. Basically, the Heat will see their lofty championship stock either remain neutral or decline rather dramatically, with a slight chance of improving via a big free-agency deal. 

    Anything can happen.

    I'll bet on the first option, and let's not forget that playing in the East is hugely beneficial to this team's championship odds. 

     

    Expected Offseason Trend: Neutral

1. Oklahoma City Thunder: 5-1

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    So long as Scott Brooks remains at the helm, it's going to be awfully difficult for the Oklahoma City Thunder to increase their championship potential. 

    Sure, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka are only getting better. Yes, the young players on the roster—Jeremy Lamb, Reggie Jackson, Steven Adams and Perry Jones III—have plenty of potential. 

    But without any offensive creativity, this team doesn't have a ceiling any higher than the one it boasted this year. Which, granted, was quite high. 

    The Thunder will always be true contenders so long as they have a roster this stacked with talent from top to bottom, but the rotation mismanagements, lack of strategic adjustments and willingness to ride star players (both in terms of minutes played and offensive sets) prevents OKC from becoming the prohibitive favorites. 

    It's a status that the Thunder are close to reaching, but they aren't quite there.

    Favorites? Sure, but let's not throw the extra adjective in there yet. 

     

    Expected Offseason Trend: Neutral

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